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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hockey Log

PC women eye offensive U-turn

Officially 1-5-1 since the calendar Zamboni’s last lap, and resorting to overtime or a shootout to polish off both of their latest conference victories, the Friars are not inclined to deny the difference their lately arid offense might have made in their playoff assignment.

They will round out their February slate on Saturday with a spontaneously scheduled do-or-die, Seed 4 versus Seed 5, home tilt with Connecticut, against whom they sneezed out an unfavorable 2-1 OT decision on the first of the month. Since that afternoon, they have not mustered any more than two regulation goals per game. They have been restricted to merely one in each of their last three.

Laura Veharanta, still the top gun of the program with a 15-14-29 scoring transcript, has kept that same data ever since she planted an initial 1-0 lead during that visit to Freitas Ice Forum. Former linemate and top playmaker Ashley Cottrell has upped a 5-14-19 reading to 5-16-21 in the last four weeks. Senior A-captain Katy Beach is dry on the month as a whole, leaving her stuck on 8-8-16 totals.

Most everyone else has at least sprinkled valuable, tangible output, though not enough to retain the once-worthwhile visions of bringing the Hockey East championship to Schneider Arena. Some nights, they have fallen prey to the opposing defense’s equivalent resolve, amounting to shallow shot totals. Other times, they have launched boundless salvos at rubber-proof brick walls in the crease.

“I honestly think it’s just been great goaltending,” said head coach Bob Deraney. “I think we’re making shots and we’re doing all the things that you’re supposed to do. It just happens that you’re snakebitten.”

When PC’s promise for a regal finish in the standings was at its peak some three weeks ago, they lobbed an even 100 cumulative shots at Northeastern’s tricky tumbler Florence Schelling, though it would only be good for five strikes and two of four possible points in the home-and-home series.

From there, they pressed on to back-to-back confrontations with the two eventual first-round byes, New Hampshire and Boston College, both of whom laid out effective puck graters and confined the Friars to no more than 22 shots over their next three games –a trinity of losses by a combined 12-4 upshot.

Granted, Providence virtually matched their adversaries’ exceptional defensive grip each night. But their own strike force simply didn’t bat home more of those decisive, fleeting scoring rushes.

“It definitely needs to be addressed and hopefully we’ll pick it up,” said Cottrell, whose last regulation lamp-lighter was the icebreaker in a 5-1 drubbing of UConn at the end of January, coincidentally the last offensive bonfire PC has spoken of. “We just have to go out there, play our game systematically, and be mentally strong.”

There was a rather timely hint of that yearned-for resurgence last Saturday at BC’s Conte Forum, at which point it was already do-or-die as far as home ice for this weekend’s preliminary round was concerned. The fresh-willed, fastidious Friars threw a baker’s dozen worth of biscuits at Molly Schaus, though the celestial stopper made like herself in swallowing everything to lug a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

The Eagles subsequently trimmed PC’s shooting frequency to 10 second period stabs to merely seven in the third. But, to their credit, the Friars only let Genevieve Lacasse deal with 13 more Boston bids after she had faced 10 in the opening frame. And Erin Normore’s connection in the middle frame effectively turned the tables.

By day’s end, Lacasse had overthrown Schaus for first place in intra-league save percentage and her praetorian guards –reeling off Cottrell’s shootout clincher- are stirring a new brew of hunger and hope in their practice ice this week.

“It’s definitely something that we need to focus on,” said Normore, who has four points in five career postseason games. “In our last couple of games, we have gotten our shots and chances. We just can’t put the puck home. But hopefully these (timely bounces tend to) come in do-or-die games and we can put those shots home and get the wins under our belt.”

Providence has held up thus far on relatively short sustenance, all leaderboard lesions aside. But the mutually do-or-die scenario at hand might call for a reprise of the three-goal outburst that effectively settled the home swing with UConn.

“I have to believe that we’re storing them up to something,” said Deraney. “I’ve always believed that it always evens out. So the fact that we haven’t been scoring means we’re soon going to break through somewhere, somehow. And since we’re still playing and in the playoffs, there’s no better time to break out than this Saturday.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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